The Righteous One’s
a brief study of Psalm 49, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 4 April 2008
Psalm 49 is not a very well-known psalm. It is also not a Psalm that is generally regarded as Messianic. However, we have reason to agree with Andrew Bonar that the speaker in this Psalm is first and foremost the Messiah.
Turn to Matthew 13:34—
“34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: 35 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Mt 13:34-35).
Matthew is referring to the teaching ministry of the Lord Jesus. He is essentially saying that the Lord spoke in parables according as it was prophesied. What prophecy is he referring to? He is referring particularly to Psalm 78:2, where the Psalmist says: “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old.”
What Matthew is saying is that the ‘I’ is Christ. Now, it happens that the ‘I’ in Psalms 49 says pretty much the same things as the ‘I’ in Psalm 78! Look at verses 3 and 4.
Bonar is right, I believe, when he says:
The Redeemer himself speaks this ‘parable’, this weighty discourse, which in its topics is to the world no better than an unintelligible enigma—‘a dark saying’.
What is this Psalm about? Well, the thesis of this Psalm is found in verse 5—
5 Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
I don’t know about you, but I find this verse rather difficult to understand. But despair not, you are not the only one. This verse is recognised as the key to this Psalm of dark sayings, but dark is our understanding.
Well, what does it mean? Leaving the spadework behind, let me give you the excellent paraphrase of verse 5 by Bishop George Horne:
Why should I give way to fear and despondency, in times of calamity, when the wickedness of my wealthy and powerful adversaries compasses me about, to supplant and overthrow me?
This Psalm, in other words, reflects the Messiah’s thoughts and encouragement as He suffered in the hand of His powerful enemies. It is a Psalm that all believers, being united with Christ, may have recourse unto whenever we feel ourselves persecuted or bullied by the rich and powerful of the world.
It is a Psalm that teaches us to look to Christ and His suffering, and to know that He was tempted at all points like as we are, yet without sin.
The Psalm begins with a prologue followed by a thesis statement which we have just considered.
1 Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world: 2 Both low and high, rich and poor, together. 3 My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding. 4 I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.
This is a Psalm of instruction. It is for all people—whether rich or poor, great or small. When we sing it, we must sing it with the view of admonishing one another in the fear of the Lord.
We must sing it to encourage one another to take courage when the powerful people in the world lift themselves up against us to intimidate us.
But why should we not fear them? Our Lord gives us 3 reasons.
1. Temporal Wealth &
6 They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; 7 None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: 8 (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) 9 That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption.
The point is: The rich and powerful have a false sense of power. But the simple reality is that with all their wealth, they cannot save a person from death and the judgement of God.
So why should we fear them? We should fear God rather.
The Lord Jesus is essentially saying the same thing in the New Testament when He says:
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28).
Let us fear God rather than man for temporal wealth and power is limited. Let us not allow a fear of man to dictate how we feel, what we think and what we do or do not do, especially when such feelings, thoughts and actions cause us to sin against God. Let us remember rather to fix our eyes on the LORD.
But secondly, we should not fear those rich and powerful oppressors of this world because…
2. Temporal Wealth &
10 For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. 11 Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. 12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish. 13 This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings.
Fallen man will die. It is appointed unto man once to die. Even the rich and powerful can observe that (v. 10). But yet they sometimes live as if they will be rich and powerful forever.
To preserve their honour they would do many things, including naming parcels of land after themselves (v. 11). Remember how Emperor Nero wanted to name part of Rome Neropolis? Today the same display of self-exaltation persists with less abashed persons naming corporations, buildings and streets after themselves.
But whatever they do, they will perish. Their honour will go down to the grave with them. How ever great and powerful, the wicked will return to the dust like animals. If they live like animals, without regard for God, then they would die like animals (v. 12). How foolish to live such a life! How foolish it is to envy such a life and even follow in the footsteps of those who have gone that way.
Should we fear them? Shall we not, rather, fear God, who is unchanging? Fear not the rich and powerful bullies of the world, for their wealth and power is here today and gone tomorrow.
But thirdly, let us not fear the rich and powerful enemies of God for…
3. Temporal Wealth & Power
14 Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.
We have seen how the wicked, how ever rich and powerful, will die. They will die as animals will die. They are in that sense no better than the beasts, whatever they may think of themselves.
But there is something else that distinguishes the brute beasts from the wicked persons who are rich and powerful. This difference is hinted in verse 14—“the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning.”
The fact is: man unlike animals is created in the image of God. We will face the judgement of God. And there will come a day when our bodies will be raised from the dead. In that day, which is heralded by the Resurrection Morning of the Lord Jesus Christ, the poor and weak of Christ will triumph over the rich and powerful of the world. For in that day, the righteous in Christ will be raised with a body incorruptible and fitted for glory; whereas the wicked would be raised with a corruptible body fitted for eternal punishment.
Our Lord is He who alone is upright. So in a certain sense, verse 14 is about the Lord triumphing over the wicked. But all who believe in Him are united to Him and are upright in Him. Thus the apostle Paul referring to Genesis 3:15 tells the Roman believers: “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.… ” (Rom 16:20).
Thank God for our union with Christ. Our Lord knew that He need not be afraid of His powerful foes because He would rise again from the dead, verse 15—
15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me.
So we too who are united to Christ need not fear those who oppress us because we too will be raised from the dead and will be as kings and priests with Christ. We shall be vindicated. Our sorrows and mourning will turn to joy for we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us; and vengeance belongs to Him.
Here then are the 3 reasons why those who are united to Christ need not fear the rich and powerful of this world who may bully them. They need not fear them for the wealth and power of this world is limited, will perishe and will be trounced by the power and honour that the church will be given.
With this, we must conclude our study of this Psalm. And what better way than to use the conclusion provided by the Psalmist, for verse 16 to the end of the Psalm is really a conclusion and recapitulation of the reasons why we should not be afraid of the wicked who are rich and powerful:
16 Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased; 17 For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him. 18 Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself. 19 He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. 20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.
We need not be afraid of the wicked, rich and powerful because their power and wealth is limited and temporal; and because they will be overcome by death and judgement. In one sense “20 Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.” In another sense, he is worse than the beasts.
On the other hand, those who are in Christ will rise with Christ and will triumph over Satan and his cohort.
I don’t know how many of us will find this Psalm directly applicable. I don’t know what is going on in your life as you would not know what pain and struggles I am facing. But I want to tell you that if your pain and sorrow have to do with a sense of being lorded over or taken advantage of by some powerful persons or institutions, then you need not fear.
Do you feel discouraged because you feel that you have been bullied by your company or by someone? Do you work for a boss who is rich and cares not about your welfare? Do you sense that your classmates look down upon you because you are not as well to do as them? Do you feel a sense of inferiority because you see others doing well in their career whereas you are sidelined due to your Christian principles?
If so, you must not wallow in self-pity. You must look to the Cross. Christ laid His life down for you. Shall not He vindicate you; and shall not the Father give you all things needful for you? Envy not and fear not those who bully you. Pity them rather and pray for them. Amen.